Friday, May 16, 2014

Review: Action Comics #31

Action Comics #31 kept the Superman Doomed ball rolling, the first chapter of the arc released the same day as the prologue.

As I said yesterday, the prologue issue was better than anticipated. There was this undercurrent throughout the book looking at how this battle with Doomsday would change the Man of Steel. What would he become if he killed Doomsday? Would he still be a good man? Or would he be changed?

Well, Doomsday was killed. And we learn here that Superman has changed. Not just ethically, or personally, but also physically. We are out of the metaphor and into the literal. And now, infected with the Doomsday Plague and a sudden desire to lash out, Superman has to deal with the fallout.

Writer Greg Pak has been doing great stuff on Action since he took over and he continues to shine here. This issue is a wonderfully simmering pot as we see Superman trusting people and fighting the dark urges inside him to slowly succumbing a bit. It really works well showing us who Superman is and how this is changing him.

Aaron Kuder does the bulk of the art and his work is perfect for this book. I completely love this cover. There is the classic heroic pose of Clark ripping off his shirt. But he is surrounded by Doomsday, as if the virus is enveloping him, choking him. Can the hero emerge from this? Nice.

Rafa Sandoval and Cam Stewart chip in on some pages and keep the book moving along.

One thing I like is the opening 'recap' page,  the front page of the Daily Planet. We get a snippet of an article which lets the reader know what happened before. But I love the phony hyperlinks an the ads.

I don't necessarily like these pages. For me it feels like a wasted page. And I only get 20 an issue these days. So if you are going to do it, please make it something engaging like this.

 One of the true joys of this Pak/Kuder run has been the reinvention of Lana Lang into a proactive action scientist.

Yes, I would love for Lois to be a bigger part of Superman's life. Yes, I don't think he should be with Diana. But, at least, I have Lana. As I have said before, I preferred Lana to Lois in my salad days of youth.

So in some ways I was sad about this interaction. To see Lois, even a Brainiac-possessed Lois, say that Diana is impressive as Wonder Woman flies to a weakened Superman ... well it reminds me of what is wrong with the New 52.

The expressive work of Kuder is so wonderful though. Lana keeps saying she has no feelings for Clark anymore. But I think she might be protesting too much. Or maybe it is just that you never lose all your feelings for your first love. So this flat smirk by Lana, a sort of acknowledgment that Diana is simply out of her league and probably better for Clark, speaks volumes.

 Superman is plagued by Doomsday though. He keeps having fevered visions of losing control, lashing out, and killing. In this instance, we see a whole montage of him battering and presumably killing Luthor. It is chilling.

Knowing he can't be brought in by the League and quarantined. And he doesn't trust Luthor, nor should he. Diana gives him the nod. He should leave. So he streaks away.

But here is the key to this. He notes how, despite her sensing the rage inside him, she still believes in him. This faith in friends, this ability to lean on people for help, is intrinsic to Superman.

 And Batman believes in him too (although this friendship doesn't seem to be universally shown in the New 52). Superman tells Batman that something is wrong. And Batman knows. He is already investigating.

This showcasing of the friendship of the Trinity is great for the lead-in. In this story I am sure we will see it tested or even dissolved. This set-up scene will make that scene more powerful.

 We next see Superman in the Arctic, in a trench of downed trees. I assume that he simply passed out on his way to the Fortress and collapsed. Krypto happens to be around to rouse him. And a simple lick from his pooch lets Superman know he isn't too far gone.

It is an interesting scene. We see Krypto running with wolves and downing a deer for food. That shot of a wolf killing a deer is visceral. I wonder if it was added to again add to this feeling of bestial fury or an animalistic loss of control in Superman.

At first I thought this licking scene might be crucial for the ending of this book. Does this mean Krypto is infected with the Doomsday virus now? Will he be the cure? But I am probably overthinking it.

But maybe Krypto is a bit premature. When Superman sees hunters in a plane shoot a wolf, he loses all control, ripping the plane apart while getting a face full of machine gun.

This isn't a delirium. This happened.

I don't know if I like this overall. We haven't really had a beloved and inspirational Superman since the new 52. Making him a madman isn't going to help.

But I do think that the idea of someone trying to defeat internal demons, to control violent urges, is a story that can be mined.

 While Superman holes up in his Fortress, the world reacts to the Doomsday fight.

John Henry Irons was harmed in his battle with Doomsday in the prologue. To help contain that cellular decay, he takes a bath in 'organic steel'. I suppose it is a much needed upgrade for Steel. He was still in his clunky outfit from early Morrison Action issues. I am glad to see this sleek look over the W.W. Denslow Tin Man look he was sporting.

Senator Lane wants Steel to try to bring Superman in. I do like that Pak seems to have a healthy respect for Morrison's run on this title as he references it all the time. Actually, I love that. Irons won't join in as he did before.

More interesting is that Irons' lab is also a prison - holding Metallo and the Atomic Skull. I guess we have just seen the gun in the first act. We'll see it shot in the third act when these two are let loose to fight Superman.

But again, this is Steel trusting Superman, believing in him.

 And we see Lana believing him too. She has such faith in Superman that she decides to remove her Hazmat suit in Smallville. Superman wouldn't leave an area if it was dangerous. It shows the level of belief she has in Superman. That is contrast to Lois who is shocked in the background and remains in her protective gear.

I love this Lana.

I feel sad for how low Lois has fallen.

But despite this faith from others, Lana knows that Superman needs to believe in himself. And that isn't easy. His DNA is changing. His body is changing. The Fortress won't let him in. And now Krypto is growling at him ...

And despite knowing that he should be running to his friends for help, Superman instead heads to Metropolis to be alone ... as Clark.

So this was a very good issue, filling in this slot of the arc perfectly. After the wild, fast-paced, action-packed Superman: Doomed, I needed something of a pause, a chance to take a breath. We know that the thread is this battle changing Superman - both mentally and physically. By taking the time to show us the support Superman has around him, to show him fighting off these urges as best he can, Pak builds suspense. Can Superman remain Superman?

And then to have the book end with the first signs of transformation, the first signs of his support system turning on him, the first signs of becoming introverted and stewing in his own juices, we get a hook for the next part. The whole arc can't simply be things being smashed. I need to see the characterization that informs me about why I should care about the fights.

Plus we start to see some of the pieces on the game board. Bruce. Diana. Steel. Metallo. Atomic Skull. Lex. There is a depth here, things circling around Superman and his change.

That is what a second chapter should do.

So again, another chapter of Doomed better than expected. Although given the creative team on Action right now I shouldn't be surprised.

Overall grade: B+/B


Anonymous said...

I'm surprised you're liking this Anj. I've hated this event already since the first issue with its vapid story, anti climatic action and shock value endings. There's no depth or sincerity to the story at all even without the image of Superman tearing Doomsday in half.

Anj said...

Well ... better than expected.

And thinking issues like this, playing up the character rather than the action usually appeal to me more.

Anonymous said...

I'm just frustrated with Pak because I expect better from him with Lois.

So much of who Lois is has been sacrificed and taken from her. I totally appreciate Lana Lang and I know that she's been Pak's project with this book bc he was told he couldn't use Lois. I don't begrudge attention being paid to her at all. But....this just isn't right.

Lois has always been the true believer in Superman. That's something really special and despite the flawed nature of Man of Steel it was even something that carried over to the new film. We see it in All Star Superman, in Secret Origins, in Birthright. On Lois and Clark. On Smallville. This is iconic to Lois. She believes in Superman. And I think what people forget is that she believes in him :: without:: having known him as a child. Her faith isn't rooted on growing up with Clark Kent as Lana's is----it's rooted purely in that alien side of Clark that, in Mark Waid's words, she is "not afraid" of even as others might be afraid of this newcomer. To have this taken from as a way, I guess, to build Lana up just feels so hurtful and wrong. I know Pak is a good man but I just don't understand why he would do this. It's wrong.

Lois and Lana's reaction to Wonder Woman is also troubling though....I don't think Lana's reaction is out of character per se. Lana has always loved Clark Kent but that "alien" side of him ::has:: been a place she didn't always feel she could go. So I can see why she would assume WW was above her. (Even if it's not true bc Lana is an equal.). But Lois? Lois 's confidence defines her. This woman goes after Superman bc she's ::that:: secure. While I can totally see her impressed by Diana as an individual, watching her cheerlead the romance is just...:sad. Sad, out of character and feels manipulative.

I don't know what else to say. I've seen a lot of sad women after reading this issue and I'm one of them. I like Greg Pak but he and Charles Soule (who continues to keep stealing little moments from Lois and re-purposing them) and Scott Lobdell (who has had her in a coma or mind controlled all year) have just made me so sad.---Shades

Jay said...

Pak isn't writing Lois right now. He's essentially writing Brainiac. I'll judge Pak's writing of Lois when he actually gets a chance to write the real her. Which I anticipate will come at some point in this very story. Her breaking free of Brainiac I believe will be one of many keys in order for Superman to be broken free of Doomsday.

Anonymous said...

I don't agree. Lois wasn't even mentioned one time in their latest interview. I'm sure this story is being set up for Diana to look heroic---not Lois.

And I'm sorry but I think it's a pretty big problem that Lois has been in a coma/controlled/possessed and not had control of her own body for over a year now. It's violating and wrong. It's a cheap, lazy way to keep her on the sidelines while they continue to steal traits from her and give them to others.

I couldn't believe that Soule had Diana use the Erica Durance playful arm punch on Clark this month. The number of things he has lifted not just from comics Lois but from Smallville is shocking and hurtful. Meanwhile, Lois seems to be everyone's last priority. Just stick her in a coma or mind control her. It's unacceptable and I'm sick of seeing people make excuses for it. ---Shades

Jay said...

Pak has been very gracious and honest on Twitter and tumblr answering questions put forth by concerned Lois fans, and he very clearly pointed out that while he understands that Lois's fans aren't going to like some of the things she does, that she's also going to do things that he thinks they'll love.

He's earned my trust so I have no reason to disbelieve him and thus fully believe she'll have a large role to play.

Anonymous said...

The problem is the things Lois fans don't love are out of character. The things Lois fans like about Lois are beng presented through Diana and Lana. Not cool.

And yes, I get brainiac is involved right now, still very disheartening to see Diana and Lana boasting Lois' traits while she continues to get shoved to the background.

Jay said...

But while I agree that Lois should have a larger role than she has, she doesn't have a monopoly on believing in Superman. Those aren't traits unique to only her thus its not wrong in any way shape or form to portray Lana and Wonder Woman this way.

These aren't "Lois's traits". They're traits she should have, yes, but they do not belong exclusively to her character.

Anonymous said...

Jay, I'm sorry but again I disagree.

I give Pak credit for trying to engage with fans. But his answers, while well meaning, have been more than a little problematic and, to be frank, have revealed that he has some gender blind spots that he probably needs to address. These blind spots have been politely and intelligently pointed out to him in the replies to his questions.

I think he means well and I think he's been put in a very hard spot. But what's been done to Lois is not excusable and women need to be allowed to talk about why it makes them uncomfortable.

This isn't going to be fixed overnight and it goes beyond Mr. Pak. DC has done nothing with Lois in the last almost 3 years to earn any trust save the one shot which, though lovely, they did virtually nothing to promote. Trust isn't given it's earned and currently trust had not been earned with Lois Lane. Period. ----Shades

Anonymous said...

Jay, I'm sorry but you are incorrect again and clearly not getting it.

No, there is no monopoly in believing in Superman. Jimmy Olsen, Perry, Kara, The Kents even Metroplis often believe in Superman.

However, there are several major narratives now paramount to the foundation of the mythos including All Star, Birthright, Secret Origins, Lois and Clark, Smallville and Man of Steel that HINGE on Lois, specifically, reaching out her hand without fear while others turn away.

This goes back to Action 1 in 1938. "you needn't be afraid of me, I won't harm you." This is integral to the myth. This is part of the guts not only of Lois as a journalist unafraid of the alien but to their relationship.

So, no, of course there is no monopoly on "believing" in Superman. But when the female who has been the literal guts of that narrative for decades is pushed to the background while others are allowed to step forward in bravery that raises extreme red flags. When important female characters ---Lois, Kara, Diana etc---are written in ways that seek to downgrade the legacy that they have built over decades of history in a genre that ::still:: struggles with gender equality that is a problem and people are allowed to be concerned. ---Shades

Jay said...

I get it just fine, I just disagree is all. I respect your opinion but I don't share them.

The only thing I believe done badly to Lois in the New 52 thus far is that she hasn't been utilized enough. Other than that, no complaints from me. I know her history, I know the complaints. Just because I don't share them doesn't mean I don't get it.

Anj said...

I concur that Lois has been treated shabbily in the New 52.

But I can't blame Pak for this editorial fiat. And I think that I'd rather have a spunky Lana than no strong female characters at all.

But to take it a step further, Cat Grant is a stronger presence in the Super books than Lois. And that is sad.

Hopefully when things settle out once Johns comes back on then Lois will reemerge.

Jay said...

I hope so too, as I want to see their friendship fleshed out a lot more. I liked what Morrison and Lobdell did there for the brief time they touched up on it.